Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bible Study on Proverbs, Part XI

Hatred stirreth up strifes: and charity covereth all sins.

When one lives a life in hatred and in sin, it's often a very short life. To demonstrate that point, one could draw upon a character that America seems to be obsessed with, that of the Mafia man. The men in the Mafia almost always practiced deceit, villainy, about every bad trick in the book to gain power. And in the end, they almost always turn on each other. Normally when they turn on each other, it was for something extremely miniscule that happened in some cases decades ago. Since they lived by a principle of power and hatred, rather than charity and service, those wrongdoings laid under the service for quite some time, building anger. Eventually that anger would erupt in strife, normally a bloody one.

This is contrasted by those who practice charity. When charity is practiced, once bitter enemies can become friends, or at least develop a level of respect between the two of them. That charity overlooks those sins, and one isn't constantly living in a state of fearing revenge. To the Christian, revenge is something that should be abhorrent, and never carried out. While justice might demand punishment, revenge is never justice. We see that in Proverbs, it's not just living a life of virtue, when one follows such virtues, life is ultimately far simpler.

In the lips of the wise is wisdom found: and a rod on the back of him that wanteth sense.

Another way of saying this is the wise man does out of desire and service what others will only do through fear. Since they reject wisdom, normally in selfish pride, about the only way to get them to do something proper is if they are compelled to do so, either through incentives or force. The wise man needs no incentive other than to do what is right and just. The one who wants sense is normally taking the approach "Well what's in this for me?" or "How far along can I get away with doing this?" Normally, tying this to the verse before, it is he who lives a life by hateful standards who adopts such an approach, and the charitable one doing something because of love. As Christians, we never do something out of fear of hell. At least we shouldn't real as it is! Rather, the standard is to do something because one loves God first and foremost. The path to wisdom as Proverbs reports earlier is obviously through trusting in the Lord and employing charity.

Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the fool is next to confusion.

There are some who seem to imply that since wisdom is a gift of God, it is not a gift that needs to be nurtured or practiced. The wise man is wise for two reasons. One, he most certainly is blessed by God with the gift of wisdom. Second, he maintains and cultivates that gift. He dedicates himself to his studies and his disciplines without ceasing. In an irony, he is wise because he realizes he isn't. He recognizes his own limits, and learns from others. Rather than speak always, he knows when he should remain silent and learn.

This is contrasted with a proverb from Mark Twain. "It is better to remain silent and thought a fool then to speak and remove all doubt." The fool doesn't feel it's necessary to practice discipline and cultivate the gift of wisdom. He always has something to say. Even intelligent people end up being the fool. They believe that since they have intelligence in some areas they have intelligence in all, rushing into a discussion attempting to wax eloquent, when in reality they should sit back and learn. According to the great spiritual master St. John of the Cross, it is because of a secret and sometimes not so secret pride. Speaking on the issue of pride in those walking the spiritual life, the spiritual master has the following to say in his masterpiece Dark Night of the Soul:

AS these beginners feel themselves to be very fervent and diligent in spiritual things and devout exercises, from this prosperity (although it is true that holy things of their own nature cause humility) there often comes to them, through their imperfections, a certain kind of secret pride, whence they come to have some degree of satisfaction with their works and with themselves. And hence there comes to them likewise a certain desire, which is somewhat vain, and at times very vain, to speak of spiritual things in the presence of others, and sometimes even to teach such things rather than to learn them. They condemn others in their heart when they see that they have not the kind of devotion which they themselves desire; and sometimes they even say this in words, herein resembling the Pharisee, who boasted of himself, praising God for his own good works and despising the publican.

2. In these persons the devil often increases the fervour that they have and the desire to perform these and other works more frequently, so that their pride and presumption may grow greater. For the devil knows quite well that all these works and virtues which they perform are not only valueless to them, but even become vices in them. And such a degree of evil are some of these persons wont to reach that they would have none appear good save themselves; and thus, in deed and word, whenever the opportunity occurs, they condemn them and slander them, beholding the mote in their brother’s eye and not considering the beam which is in their own; they strain at another’s gnat and themselves swallow a camel.

3. Sometimes, too, when their spiritual masters, such as confessors and superiors, do not approve of their spirit and behavior (for they are anxious that all they do shall be esteemed and praised), they consider that they do not understand them, or that, because they do not approve of this and comply with that, their confessors are themselves not spiritual. And so they immediately desire and contrive to find some one else who will fit in with their tastes; for as a rule they desire to speak of spiritual matters with those who they think will praise and esteem what they do, and they flee, as they would from death, from those who disabuse them in order to lead them into a safe road—sometimes they even harbour ill-will against them. Presuming thus, they are wont to resolve much and accomplish very little. Sometimes they are anxious that others shall realize how spiritual and devout they are, to which end they occasionally give outward evidence thereof in movements, sighs and other ceremonies; and at times they are apt to fall into certain ecstasies, in public rather than in secret, wherein the devil aids them, and they are pleased that this should be noticed, and are often eager that it should be noticed more.

After outlining what can rightly be labeled as the fool Solomon spoke of, the Doctor then contrasts the fool with the wise man:

Together with great tranquillity and humbleness, these souls have a deep desire to be taught by anyone who can bring them profit; they are the complete opposite of those of whom we have spoken above, who would fain be always teaching, and who, when others seem to be teaching them, take the words from their mouths as if they knew them already. These souls, on the other hand, being far from desiring to be the masters of any, are very ready to travel and set out on another road than that which they are actually following, if they be so commanded, because they never think that they are right in anything whatsoever.

As St. John of the Cross tells us, it is not an issue of who has or who doesn't have knowledge and wisdom. Many of the people who fall into the errors he describes have knowledge and wisdom, but they have no clue how to use it, and always believe they know what's best. Solomon (as I do believe him to be the author of proverbs) has this in mind, when after the proverb covered he tells us how to avoid such pride in one's wisdom:

The way of life, to him that observeth correction: but he that forsaketh reproofs goeth astray.

To supplement this proverb could come a proverb from what could be called "The Bible of Military Tactics", Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Speaking on how to win a war, he tells us: "The wise warrior seeks to win and then goes to war, whereas the foolish warrior goes to war seeking to win." I remember a recent dispute I was involved in with somebody over a controversial issue. He made thunderous objections to the fact that those I worked with always "worked in committee" before issuing responses, viewing it idle gossip to constantly talk about where his argumentation went wrong amongst others. I viewed the approach my colleagues were taking as one of wisdom. They recognized that their work could be extremely flawed, and wanted to develop a plan of action on how to proceed with their work, taking things into account that could happen. As a result, they would modify their work. Had they not, had they simply entered the dialogue expecting their position to win without thinking ahead, they would be prone to making embarrassing statements that would later need to be corrected. Since they accepted correction from myself and others, some of the more outlandish statements were dropped. When they did not seek such counsel, they normally found themselves in a mess with certain statements they had to retract later, making them look like fools. Furthermore, I wouldn't view this as a negative, but a positive if many minds were working together against me. It is a sign of respect from one's opponent, giving your work serious consideration. It proves he is not an ideologue looking to score points, but looking to have an honest dialogue. He takes correction and lays up knowledge. Those who are too proud to accept correction almost always end up looking like fools, trapped in a nest of confusions.